Category Archives: Law and Politics

A Busy Summer for Sustainable Food and Health

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This past summer there have been some important decisions going on in the legal world having to do with public health, organic labeling, and factory farming that I want to share with you. Here are some highlights.

 

In New York, an appeals court affirmed and overturned Mayor Bloomberg’s Soda Ban.

  •  What’s Next? The mayor has indicated that he will bring the case to the court of appeals, but for now, it has been put down. But he should act before the upcoming Mayoral elections, since we don’t know how our future Mayor will view this issue

 

The USDA has issued final interim rules restricting junk food in schools.

  •  What’s Next? Since the rule is “interim,” the USDA has 120 days to make any changes, and you can count on various lobbying groups to do their best to change this piece of legislation as much as possible.  

 

A California judge postponed proceedings in response to a proposed class action against Gruma Corp for advertising GMO tortilla chips as “all natural,” so that the FDA can answer the age-old question of whether non-organic food can be classified as natural.

  •  What’s Next? The FDA’s compliance has many implications; if its guidance surrounding trans fat proves informative, then its decision might not be enough.

 

Cal-Maine Foods Inc. (CALM) struck a deal to pay $28 million to settle antitrust claims when Sodexo Inc. filed suit against them (and a number of other egg companies) alleging that they conspired to produce fewer eggs—by killing off more hens—in order to fix prices.

  •  What’s Next? These companies were able to use this scheme to create  a more “humane” facility for the remaining animals. Just goes to show that there is more to “humane” and “cage-free” than meets the eye.

 

Jarrod Barney Juarez was convicted of one count of animal cruelty following a trial this week for abusing a piglet at a factory farm that was supplying pigs to Tyson Foods. Juarez was sentenced to a fine, court costs, a suspended 30 day jail sentence, and six months of probation.

  •  What’s Next? Juarez’s guilty plea is one of many that comes from a series of undercover investigations undergone by the Humane Society. Hopefully, more of these individuals’ crimes will come to light.

 

That’s all for now. Make sure to follow future posts to stay informed!

 

What You Need to Know About the “Monsanto Protection Act”

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The “Monsanto Protection Act” is what many food activists have coined Section 735 of the Farmer’s Assurance Provision, and has many organic advocates and organizations up in arms. And for good reason. This bill completely contradicts President Obama’s campaign promise to label genetically modified organisms, and gives Monsanto and the USDA power to entirely ignore judicial oversight.

 

What it Changes

 

Prior to the passage of this provision, the USDA’s testing of new GMO crops was subject to judicial oversight. The law previously required the USDA to complete environmental impact statements (EIS) before allowing for the sale and planting of GMO crops. These environmental impact statements were subject to judicial review. For example, in 2010, the Center for Food Safety initiated a lawsuit against the USDA, requesting a temporary restraining order to prevent Monsanto from planting GMO sugar beets since the USDA failed to file a proper EIS. The court ruled for the plaintiff, reversing USDA approval of GMO sugar beets.

 

The new provision, however, undermines this process, and would have allowed for the USDA to ignore the court’s ruling on GMO sugar beats. In relevant part, the Act states:

 

“In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements. . . “

 

Basically, this throws the whole process of judicial review straight down the garbage can. Instead of providing a check for the USDA’s determination, the USDA can ignore the court system and makes its own determinations on GMO crops. And although the provision would only last for 6 months, there’s no telling what legal precedent it could set.

 

Who’s Behind It

The provision was supposedly written by Senator Roy Blunt, in conjunction with Monsanto, a publicly trade agricultural corporation who leads in the production of genetically engineered crops. Talk about conflict of interest! The Center for Food Safety also reported that several democrats were completely unaware of the provision’s inclusion, as it was slipped into the bill last minute.

 

 What you Can Do  

Despite adamant public protest, Obama signed the bill, allowing the law to take effect. Despite Obama’s poor history on US food policy, I’ve always had faith that his policies would improve this term, despite the fact that he appointed Tom Vilsack, former Monsanto lawyer, as the secretary of agriculture. After all, he had healthcare and re-election to worry about first term, and he could only spread his political clout so thin. And while he still has very important civil rights issues on his plate at the moment, this is his last chance to make the more radical policies he promised—to make steps towards labeling GMOs– not to allow more of them to go unchecked. As supporters, we must demonstrate that we are no longer OK with food policy taking a back seat, and that we want him to pursue the policy of labeling GMO’s, as he said he would in 2007.

For more information, check out these links:

Obama Signs Monsanto Protection Act

Congress Teams Up with Monsanto to Shred the Constitution

‘Monsanto Protection Act': 5 Terrifying Things To Know About The HR 933 Provision

Sign this petition 

 

The Suffolk County Energy Drink Ban

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Earlier this month, the Suffolk County Health Board proposed an age limit on energy drinks sold in the county. More specifically, the ban would prevent teenagers under the age of 18 from buying drinks like Monster, Red Bull, and 5 Hour Energy. Legislators justify the ban by citing the detrimental consequences on teens, such as increasing heart rate and debilitated mental functioning. On the other hand, beverage companies argue that the ban is arbitrary and overly invasive. Parents, they say, should decide their children’s eating choices, not government.

Like NYC’s soda ban, the concept surrounding the legislation is a step forward. The support for it makes it perhaps even more powerful than the New York City ban— several local retailers already expressed support by vowing to refuse the sale of energy drinks to those under the age of 19, even if struck down. And who can blame them? Regulations on products sold to children act as an appropriate counter to the misleading advertising that pervades the media from every level. Children find advertising for these drinks on TV, billboards, and perhaps even in school sponsorships.

Some of these advertisements are extremely misleading. Take for example, the commercial used to advertise for 5 hour energy (see below). To the uncritical viewer, the commercial suggests that the drink is doctor approved, when it really only tells us that those doctors agree that if you’re going to consume energy drinks, it is better to consume one that has fewer calories. The commercial then connects that finding to its own statement that 5 hour energy is 4 calories, misleading viewers into believing that doctors recommend 5 hour energy. If the wording makes your brain go in circles, imagine what it does for a 16 year old! Studies have shown that adolescents even at the high school age have difficulty recognizing the persuasive element of advertising, especially when cloaked in the guise of public service announcements.

In the face of such deceptive advertising, it seems natural that this ban would receive so much support. Not only would it better the health of young children and adolescents, but it also would place decision-making authority out of the hands of advertisers and into the hands of parents.

 

Bloomberg’s Ban on Super-Size Drinks: My Take

A little less than two weeks ago, the Bloomberg administration proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks above 16 oz. in restaurants, delis, and other business establishments. Since then, food industries and super-size aficionados have voiced several concerns. Bloomberg’s plan has been seen as overreaching, ineffective, and a waste of efforts towards public health. While I agree that the banning of sugary drinks alone will do little to combat the problem of obesity, I also believe that it is a small but necessary step in the right direction.

 

Our country is addicted to sugar. Literally. A 2003 Princeton University study revealed that sugar has addictive effects similar to several dependency-forming drugs.

 

 I have been living in New York City for the past 6 years and have experienced first-hand the addictive effects of sugar. While working in a high-stakes charter school, I rarely had time to make or buy my own lunch, so I ate the lunches and snacks served in the school cafeteria—which usually had tons of added sugars. I would also stay at school for late nights lesson planning, where my dinner consisted of teddy grahams and wheat-thins. I kid you not. Needless to say, I had some weight and skin problems. Once I left, I decided to cut out added sugars altogether and the withdrawal effects were insane. I felt depressed, anxious, and had constant cravings—I felt the same way that smokers tell me they feel when they try to quit. If university studies don’t convince you of the addictive qualities of processed sugar, I hope my firsthand experience does!

A lot of critics of Bloomberg’s policy—or policies regulating what Americans eat in general—say that we should be focusing on education. But being addicted to sugar is not a choice. Our sugar addiction has resulted from over-advertising sugary products  just as did the addiction to tobacco. It also comes from the placement of sugar in nearly every food in the grocery store to cover up poor quality. Education did not work for tobacco, and it is unlikely to work for processed sugar. The only method that has worked for curbing tobacco addiction is banning and limiting smoking. Not only did this help curb our country’s addiction, but it also has reduced the number of hospital admissions rates for  smoking-related diseases

Several studies support the fact that a plant-based-diet that limits itself to no more than one tablespoon of sugar per day can have the effect of reversing heart disease, kidney failure and numerous other diseases. It also has the effect of reducing hospital visitsFormer President Bill Clinton himself follows such a plan and has been able to effectively reverse his heart problems after having heart surgery. Imagine the reduction of patients we would see in hospitals if everyone reduced his/her sugar consumption. Imagine the reduction in healthcare costs!

But what about free choice? Is Bloomberg forcing us to eat healthy? My answer: No more so than big food is forcing us to develop addictions. The constant influx of advertisements and prevalence of additives and additional sugar in our foods has made it nearly impossible to avoid. Bloomberg’s proposed ban is no more than a small counterbalance to our country’s addictions. Is it enough? Certainly not. But it may be the change of direction that New York City needs.